Le 09/06/2020

Soil between our fingers: agricultural revolutions

How will technological innovation respond to changes in the agricultural world? This is the question that the speakers gathered around Benoit EGON - Machinery Editor for the magazine "Matériel Agricole"- tried to answer during FIRA 2018. The whole point of this round table is to remind us that when talking about robotics, we must not forget to put our fingers in the soil. François PURSEIGLE, sociologist of agricultural worlds at the INP in Toulouse discusses the emergence of new technological objects and their impacts on the world of agricultural work.

A historical retrospective

François PURSEIGLE draws up a historical landscape of agriculture and its technological advances. The role of peasants in the 19th century is absolutely central: that is when the Ministry of Agriculture was first established to support them with technological progress, along with the creation of agricultural schools. France is modernizing its rural areas, and technical innovation is at the heart of their development. Farmers who take ownership of new technologies are recognized as deserving.

Technologies as a vehicle for social emancipation

In the mid-20th century, countries and public authorities are convinced that social emancipation will be achieved through the introduction of the tractor. The transition from the family farm to the farm as a production tool was under way thanks to technological innovation. This process was necessary to cope with food scarcity after World War II, and was supported by the magazine "Paysan" which shows the new mechanical tools in one... (INCLUDE PHOTO). The French strategy is then based on the modernization of medium-sized farms, as shown by the agricultural orientation laws of Minister Pisani in 1960-62.

The farmer, the multi-skilled technician

The introduction of new technologies on the farms requires that the farmer wears many different hats. The modern farmer is no longer just in his field, he has to manage his farm as a fully-fledged business. From now on, he is no longer alone and a form of cooperation is being developed through a "group farming" that aims to promote joint work (lending of machinery, pooling of production means, producers association, CETA). According to François PURSEIGLE, "Innovation can only be achieved by joining forces".

Today's farmers: a minority.

There has never been in current times such a low number of farmers in Europe. We observe a decrease in the agricultural family population, contrary to the resurgence that happened during modernization. We went from the family farm to the farm as a production tool, leading to an "efflorescence" of businesses and the fragmentation of the type of farm, to the benefit of small and large farms. But the question now is: what innovations and for what kind of agriculture? Who do we want to work for?

New societal expectations

New technological innovations are awaited to meet these new expectations. The rural areas are no longer seen as "a place of production” and agriculture is facing a clash of rationalities, explains the sociologist: the farmers' economic rationality versus environmental rationality. Technological innovation is counted on to be the solution to the controversies that have hit the agricultural world (GMOs, meat consumption, etc.). Innovation can no longer be taken for granted and the relationship to it has changed. Some innovations are even sometimes withdrawn in the face of the controversies they generate.

Agricultural innovation has been supported by a whole ecosystem of organizations (unions, cooperatives, banks). How will innovation in the future be structured? Around which organizations? Will innovation be able to support the restructuring of farms? The questions have been asked!

Find more about François PURSEIGLE's speech at FIRA 2018 and the round table that followed.

Categories : #Food